Saturday, June 5, 2021

‘My Dinner with Andre’


It has been decades since I last watched it, so there’s a lot more to get out of it now. Try it.

Louis Malle seats you in a booth at Cafe des Artistes with Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory for quail entrees and conversation. The former, the attentive ear, is a Square of dependable, resolute ninety degrees. The latter, the instructive tongue, is the Compasses extended to extremity.

At length, Gregory tells of his extrinsic doings during bizarre travels about the face of the earth in recent years. A monk here. Experimental theater there. Observations on a world in waking sleep. There even is talk of a chamber of reflection in the woods followed by a ritual raising. Wally Shawn counters with rhapsody for simple domesticity: a coffee, a book, quietude with his girlfriend.

They would appear to be irreconcilable.

The film has the feel of improvisation, but in fact it was scripted meticulously. (Best Screenplay of 1982, BSFC.) The photography is scientific—you may catch yourself absentmindedly fiddling with the white tablecloth while listening. The restaurant actually was a set constructed inside a defunct hotel in Richmond, Virginia, but the orbiting waiter (Jean Lenauer), cadaverous and imposing, is a wry detail viewers of a certain age will smile at.

Oh, and music by Satie!

One year after the film’s release, critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, conversationalists themselves, asked the actors what in retrospect, if anything, they would do differently. We’d trade places, they answered.

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